Na­tions where pri­vate firms drive in­no­va­tion are mak­ing most progress on tech trans­fer

Patent ci­ta­tion data re­veal na­tions mak­ing strides on knowl­edge trans­fer. Si­mon Baker re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Si­[email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Find­ing the best way to turn high­qual­ity aca­demic re­search into eco­nomic suc­cess is a ques­tion that vexes pol­i­cy­mak­ers the world over.

But patent ci­ta­tion data sug­gest that na­tions where in­no­va­tion is be­ing driven by pri­vate firms are mak­ing the most progress in this area, and uni­ver­si­ties should not nec­es­sar­ily be blamed if a coun­try is lag­ging be­hind.

Those are among the con­clu­sions that could be drawn from an anal­y­sis of sta­tis­tics on the rate at which aca­demic re­search was cited by patents be­tween 2008 and 2014.

Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion used El­se­vier’s SciVal tool to look at the num­ber of patent ci­ta­tions that ref­er­enced schol­ar­ship from a par­tic­u­lar coun­try over the pe­riod com­pared with the global trend.

Be­cause patent data have a lag of sev­eral years it is not pos­si­ble to view trends much be­yond 2014, but even by that year South Ko­rea had matched Ger­many with a patent ci­ta­tion rate per 1,000 pa­pers of more than one-and-a-half times the world av­er­age, while Sin­ga­pore pulled ahead of Switzer­land over the pe­riod.

Mean­while, the UK still lagged be­hind the world’s most in­no­va­tive economies such as the US, Nether­lands and Switzer­land, although it had im­proved and was above coun­tries with sim­i­lar higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, such as Aus­tralia.

Richard Jones, pro­fes­sor of physics at the Univer­sity of Sh­effield and chair of the tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sory group for Eng­land’s knowl­edge ex­change frame­work, said that the coun­try com­par­i­son suggested that it was un­fair to fo­cus on uni­ver­si­ties for short­falls in knowl­edge trans­fer.

“The ques­tion is: where does the de­mand for in­no­va­tion come from? Where are the com­pa­nies that are do­ing the kind of ap­plied re­search that needs ba­sic re­search to un­der­pin it?” he said.

Although in many ways South Ko­rea had a very “directed sys­tem” where ma­jor com­pa­nies such as Sam­sung had an in­flu­ence on aca­demic re­search, that may be more ef­fec­tive for knowl­edge trans­fer than in na­tions such as the UK, where pri­vate de­mand for in­no­va­tion may be lack­ing.

Apart from the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try – which Pro­fes­sor Jones said had it­self been strug­gling in re­cent years in bring­ing new prod­ucts to mar­ket – “we don’t re­ally have any other re­ally strong sec­tors that are pro­vid­ing the de­mand for in­no­va­tion. So I don’t think it is fair to blame the uni­ver­si­ties, they have been quite ef­fec­tive at knowl­edge trans­fer.”

He added that an­other suc­cess­ful ap­proach, de­ployed in the US in par­tic­u­lar, was to grow small univer­sity spin-off firms into huge com­pa­nies that then fu­elled in­no­va­tion, but again, the UK had strug­gled to fol­low this route.

“We don’t have enough big com­pa­nies do­ing R&D on a large scale and we’re not grow­ing small com­pa­nies to a big scale,” Pro­fes­sor Jones said.

Mean­while, he thought that China – although be­low the world av­er­age patent ci­ta­tion rate – would prob­a­bly con­tinue to im­prove thanks to hav­ing “very in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies” and a univer­sity sec­tor that had “grown by leaps and bounds”.

How­ever, one tem­per­ing fac­tor to this could be trade.

“Any­thing that re­stricts trade will dampen in­no­va­tion. One of the lessons of [South] Ko­rea is that it has [be­come]…a lead­ing-edge in­no­va­tive coun­try by be­ing fiercely com­pet­i­tive and…mak­ing ex­ports com­pet­i­tive with Western prod­ucts. So, in gen­eral, if mar­kets close that would be a dan­ger [to a coun­try’s progress].”

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